As a self-care coach and yoga teacher, I often hear my students and clients share the parts of themselves they don’t like or believe they need to get rid of. They’re in conflict with anxiety, self-criticism judgment, shame, and sadness. They berate themselves for being lazy, for procrastinating, for not being disciplined enough, for not getting enough done, for disappointing others and themselves, and for struggling with feeling overwhelmed, burned out, and fatigued.

They’re convinced that if they just got rid of or fixed these parts, everything would be okay.

If only I wasn’t so anxious, lazy, or overwhelmed. If only it didn’t take me so long to get things done. If only I didn’t care so much what other people think. If only I didn’t spend so much time ruminating. And many such feelings constantly run in our minds.

Yet the research shows that the opposite is true. Kristen Neff writes, “Self-compassionate individuals are less likely to suppress unwanted thoughts and emotions than those who lack self-compassion, and more likely to acknowledge that their emotions are valid and important. With self-compassion, instead of replacing negative feelings with positive ones, positive emotions are generated by embracing the negative ones.”

In fact, I’d go one step further and suggest that emotions aren’t negative or positive; they’re information that we need and it’s important feedback that communicates what’s asking for attention and love. If you feel sad, this isn’t a negative feeling, it’s a feeling that’s letting you know there’s a part of you that needs care.

Attend to Your Whole Self With Love 

Self-care falls heartbreakingly short when it focuses on caring for the parts of ourselves we like (or have been taught are positive) while attacking and trying to get rid of the parts of ourselves we don’t like (or have been taught are negative). 

When we meet shame, sadness, fatigue, self-criticism and judgment with love and curiosity, rather than hostility, we give these parts of ourselves a chance to relax, calm down and communicate and share what it is they are trying to do for us. Often they’re trying to protect us, and at one point they probably did, even if that’s no longer the case. 

When we practice shifting our relationship with distressing emotions from adversarial to a compassionate and curious attention, we create an opening for, what in yoga is called, svadhyaya (self-study) and moksha (liberation.) 

Often what we discover is that we’re not living a right life and that we’ve strayed from our values. As Brene Brown explains, when our shame is felt into and met with empathy and understanding, it dissipates and connection and wholeness replace it.

Meet Distress with Empathy and Understanding

According to research, one of the most potent “active ingredients” in mindfulness is to notice what’s happening without fighting it so that you know what’s true, and if you can, love what’s true, especially what’s uncomfortable. 

Self-compassion skills can be learned and maintained over time. 

Strengthen your self compassion skills with the following exercises:

When you experience distress, put both hands over your heart to self-soothe and repeat self-kindness phrases to yourself, such as “This is a moment of suffering, suffering is a part of life, may I be kind to myself in this moment, may I give myself the compassion I need.”

Write a self-compassion letter to yourself. Identify a part of yourself you don’t like, then write it down, and describe how you feel. Sad? Embarrassed? Angry? Now write a letter to yourself expressing compassion and acceptance for the part of yourself you dislike. As you write, imagine someone who loves and accepts you unconditionally for who you are. What would that person say to you about this part of yourself?

Ultimately this is what my clients and students share with me: they want to love themselves just as they are and to know that they are enough just as they are. 

And the wonderful paradox is that only when we accept all of ourself can change occur. That’s where transformation happens. As Carl Rogers said, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I change.” When we accept distressing emotions such as anxiety, shame and sadness, they begin to dissipate, and we are no longer in an antagonistic relationship with what we consider to be the negative, flawed, or even unlovable aspects of ourself.

When we meet the parts of ourselves we don’t like with compassion and curiosity and turn towards them rather than away from them, they don’t feel as if they have to shout for our attention; instead they can begin to soften. And we can integrate the entirety of our experience, of our self, instead of trying to get rid of certain parts while cultivating others. 

Everything is connected. Everything is loved.